Updated: Jan 28, 2021
Are you a good parent? Such a provoking question that immediately invites judgement, especially if you are naturally prone to self-deprecation and perhaps are sporting a lower self-esteem. However, even people who otherwise feel self-assured and assertive in their decision making and relationships with others, may find themselves wondering "Am I doing a good job as a parent?". This is especially true when our little ones challenge our authority or struggle in any area. But instead of feeling defeated and disappointed, I invite you to view these challenging moments as opportunities to develop into the parent you want to become.
Because the truth is that nothing prepares us to be parents besides being a parent. I had all the knowledge I thought I needed before becoming a mom, but it was not until I started parenting that I was able to begin growing into the parent I wanted to be. I am a perfectionist and being one renders it very difficult to be truly satisfied with anything, parenting included. However remembering Donald Winnicot's concept of a "good-enough mother" that was later on expended to "a good enough parent" by Bruno Bettelheim, was exactly what I needed to be more open to the messy, unpredictable and challenging experience of parenting. I was learning to be more forgiving towards myself, even during the challenging moments of parenthood. And I hope you will start a similar journey after reading this.
So what is a "good enough parent" and is it really enough to be one? There are few things that characterize a good enough parent. First, a good enough parent does not expect to be a perfect parent, nor does he or she expect perfection from their kids. In other words, they put less pressure on themselves and on their children, resulting in a more flexibility and acceptance. One of the problems with perfection is that any mishap becomes a catastrophe. Your little one not stringing sentences together by two years of age is a major problem. Your preschooler biting is your failure in imposing boundaries. Your third grader a B in math becomes a sign of a failure. However, if you accept that children are different in their rate of development, in their emotional expressions and the ways in which they learn best, you are bound to discover the uniqueness of your child and see the behavior not as a problem but as a challenge that you are capable of facing.
Which brings us to the second characteristic of good enough parents: they seek to understand and to get to know their children rather than shaping them into what they believe they should become. They understand that from one hand, in the parent-child relationship both sides are equally important in their search for happiness and achieving their goals. On the other hand, it is not entirely equal because at least when the children are young, the parents are bigger, stronger, wiser (or should strive to be); better at reasoning and decision making while controlling the resources that the children need for survival. Therefore, to make this unbalanced relationship work, the good enough parents strive to get to know their children, to understand their emotions, needs and wants. It is only when you are satisfied with being a good enough parent, when you are not expecting perfection at all times, you can see the problem as a challenge and not as a tragedy. It is then you will not stop to cast blame (on yourself or your child), but instead will focus on looking at it from your child's point of view. What is the motivation behind the challenging behavior? Because you respect your child, you will not automatically assume that there is something wrong with her. Moreover, you will remember that your child might not be able to explain why she is behaving in this way. Children, especially when they are younger, are not good at explaining why they do what they do, not only because of limited verbal skills but sometimes because they really do not know the true reason. Furthermore, it might be that the challenging behavior actually has a good cause, such as your child's trying to assert his independence. It is up to you, as the stronger and wiser partner, to figure out what is the cause and then come with a workable solution that will be not only functional, but also leave your child with a feeling of being understood and respected.
Finally, good enough parents understand that children are inherently resilient and unless they will mess up pretty badly (and sometimes even when they will), children will end up being OK. Children who grow in a safe, healthy environment, where they feel loved, supported and understood, rather than controlled by their parents, will be able to create healthy, productive lives for themselves. In other words, if you are raising your children in a good enough environment with plenty of opportunities to play, explore and learn, you are building the foundation for their happy adulthood. Moreover, it is not your job as a parent to prevent any mistakes, failures or disappointments, because challenges and setbacks are great opportunities for learning. Thus, good enough parents provide just enough help and support, but no more than the children want and need. This is what is called scaffolding and as described by the Soviet psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, is the support adults provide for children as they learn new skills. By providing some support, adults are enabling the child to achieve more than she would have been able to do by herself, but without taking over the task completely.
So the key takeaways in order to gain more confidence in your parenting skills and become a good-enough parent (although most of you already are):
Don't expect perfection of yourself or your kids. Mistakes happen and we learn from them.
Focus on the present moments, and don't dwell on past mistakes. Children are resilient and will thrive despite some parenting failures.
See your children for who they are today not who you want them to become. Children who have good childhoods, build better adult lives by themselves.
Help your children but not more then they need or want. Do not take control over every task, but encourage them to try new things, with your support.
I hope that by now you know that by striving to be a good enough parent, you will start feeling more confident in your parenting skills. And this confidence, in turn, will inevitably bring more calm, security and satisfaction into your relationship with your child.
Bettleheim, B. (1987). A good enough parent: A book on child-rearing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Winnicott, D. W. (1973). The Child, the Family, and the Outside World. Harmondsworth, Penguin.